Tougher Indiana law on under-18 marriages clears Statehouse

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Anyone younger than 18 will need a judge’s permission to get married in Indiana under a law change approved by state legislators.

House Bill 1006, endorsed almost unanimously by lawmakers late Wednesday, would repeal the state’s current law that allows those as young as 15 to marry if they have parental consent. The new law would only allow 16- or 17-year-olds to marry someone no more than four years older after obtaining approval from a juvenile court judge.

Legislators heard during a committee meeting from women who were 15 or 16 when their parents forced them to marry men who had raped or molested them and then faced more abuse before being able to escape the relationship.

Current law does’t place any age limit on the older spouse, and Rep. Karen Engleman, the proposal’s sponsor, said her goal was to make sure both people in a marriage are on equal footing.

“It will help minor children to not get into these violent situations,” said Engleman, a Republican from Georgetown.

Engleman cited concerns that girls who marry before 18 have greater risk of sexual and domestic violence, along with higher poverty and high school dropout rates.

The bill, which now goes to Gov. Eric Holcomb for consideration, also would require judges to interview each person in private to ensure their decisions are voluntary and that they are mature enough before giving marriage permission. It also states that a pregnancy or having a child isn’t by itself sufficient to grant marriage permission.

The proposal to change the marriage age law re-emerged in the final days of this year’s legislative session, which ended early Thursday, after it was sidetracked in January by a potential fight over whether to an amendment repealing Indiana’s obsolete ban on same-sex marriages.

Rep. John Bartlett, an Indianapolis Democrat, said he believed the law change would protect girls from marriages to much older men.

“Often those childhood marriages are for human trafficking,” he said.

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